Ego is not an enemy to be broken or demolished, as is often portrayed in spiritual literature. We don't want to get rid of the ego, we want to soften it, make it porous and receptive, so information, thoughts, and compassion flow in and out. A healthy ego allows us to have the strength of our convictions yet be open to others. Psychological literature often refers to ego strength - a sureness about ourselves that rests calmly inside, the will to actualize our dreams, or stand fast to our beliefs without worrying about the consequences. By contrast, the rigid or inflated ego is concrete and dualistic - right-wrong, good-bad, friend-foe... It believes the stories we've made up are reality and doesn't realize that they are only the cover over our essence... To deflect fear, the inflated ego dons a mask and becomes artificial in relationships... This leaves us a stranger to ourself and the person we are meeting. In fact, there has been no authentic connection; it's only our personas that have met.
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Instead of turning our heads from pain, we merge with it, neither holding on to it nor pushing it away, becoming instead an instrument of transformation. Recently, on my early morning drive to a health club, I saw a deer in the middle lane, trying to get up, but obviously crippled. Her eyes looked confused and frightened. As I drove by, I breathed in her pain and breathed out a blessing. I could feel a dark cloud swirling inside of me, but I also had an image of a deer running freely in the woods. I can never know if it helped her, but something loosened inside of me. Instead of turning away from her pain, I joined her. It was then I realized more deeply the power of Tonglin... When you feel hurt, confused, lonely, or sad, breathe into your pain, feel it, be with it, then breathe out an image of clarity, light, and a blessing. This alone will start to change your life.
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Every time we open one door, we close another. It's lovely to spend Sunday morning with our new love, cooking breakfast and taking a walk together. But in the midst of our happiness, we may feel nostalgia for our former Sunday morning ritual of uninterrupted time alone at a favorite restaurant reading the newspaper. We need to acknowledge the presence of both excitement and loss, to feel their rhythm as they ebb and flow through a new relationship. If we try to deny our losses, they lead to resentments, a gnawing discomfort, and a desire to withdraw. Yet we also need to remind our ego that love means letting go of our entrenched rituals, of comparing, of wanting life to stay the same... Entering a relationship and living in the heart of the Beloved means our life will change, our shells will crack open and we will never be the same again.
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If we succumb to fear, we start holding back, and do that all-to-common dance of getting close, then pulling away. When we remember that our safe harbor depends on our awareness and honesty, we're less likely to make internal compromises, put on masks, or act like a chameleon to attract a partner or keep a hurtful relationship together. If we live by truth, we may have pain, but we will always rest securely in ourselves.
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Instead of trying to freeze the present moment and hang on to it, we need to remember that life is a process of constantly letting go. The ego wants dependable rituals and people who stay the same. But to be free means that we enjoy this touch, this kiss, this sunrise, and then let it go. This is sometimes described as not letting the ground under your feet get too solid, not grasping for security or predictability.
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